"You truly know how to rock," Howard Stern says, welcoming one of his favorite new bands, England's Royal Blood, to a live performance on his SiriusXM morning show. Another reason he loves them: "It's just two guys. I thought I'd seen it all when Cream was three guys." Stern beams at his console as bassist-singer Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher hit the dark funk of "Figure It Out," from their debut album, Royal Blood. Fattened with octave-pedal effects and droning harmonics, Kerr's bass sounds like an alien army of guitars as he and Thatcher hit the racing finish. "Dudes," Stern declares at the end, "I hail you!"
Founded in 2012, Royal Blood are used to praise from high quarters. Dave Grohl asked them to open Foo Fighters' U.K. and North American stadium dates this summer, and Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page is an ardent fan. He saw Royal Blood's first New York show, in May 2014. "I was really thrilled to see these two guys," Page says, "playing with such a connecting energy."
Friends since their mid-teens, Kerr, 25, and Thatcher, 27, knew how good they were at their first gig: a party at a pub in Worthing, Kerr's hometown on England's south coast, celebrating his return from a nine-month visit to Australia. Thatcher picked him up at the airport; in the car, Kerr played demos of riffs he'd written while away. "I said, 'Man, we should jam this out,' " says Thatcher, a pastor's son from nearby Rustington. "We set up in a friend's washroom and wrote four songs, which we played that night."
"I knew how much work the bass needed to do if we were just to have two people in the band," says Kerr, who started on piano. He planned a career as a chef before music took over and likens his approach to the bass to a popular BBC television show, Ready Steady Cook. "It was a bit like that: These are the ingredients. I've got to put on a feast with what I've got."
Royal Blood work fast. In late 2012, they recorded their first demos "for 300 pounds," Kerr notes. Those recordings became half of Royal Blood, issued in Britain last summer and the biggest first-week seller there in three years. "There was something in the rushing," Kerr says, "that captured exactly how we were." Royal Blood have already started writing a new album, with no plan to add members. "I'd be telling them what to play," Kerr admits.
Stern, though, has an idea: Royal Blood should record with Page. "You're the band," Stern tells them on the air, "he wishes he was in."